Whilst Syria has taken some of Iran’s usual bad boy limelight in the last couple of weeks, they’re still lurking in the background of any solution to regional stability. Indeed, every translator’s favourite President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said only this week:
“Iran will resist hegemonic powers’ demands which ask Tehran to halt its ideals in defense of the oppressed nations and groups and in the meantime, their calls for the halt of Tehran’s peaceful nuclear activities.”
Or something like that.
So if Iran is such a bogeyman to world peace and United Nations diplomacy, why don’t we just invade them? After all, it’s been done before. In fact, last time round it was accomplished in just a few days and with only a handful of casualties on the friendly side. (And of course, we never count the home team’s killed, do we?)
Back in 1941 it seems that the Shah of Iran was a bit too much of a Jerry-lover for Winston Churchill and Uncle Joe Stalin. Iran was officially neutral, but considering they had been shagged around for decades by Britain and Russia as a piece in their “Great Game”, it’s no surprise they didn’t jump when the Allies started to pressure them into joining the cause.
The pressure was all about keeping open the “Persian Corridor”, an overland route from the Persian Gulf up into the Caspian. This was required for funnelling up Lend Lease supplies to the Soviets; trucks, planes and other gear the Reds needed to stay in the fight against the Axis. There was only so much that could be shipped via Atlantic convoys, and the idea of a secure southern route that the U-boats couldn’t touch was a tempting one.
But the corridor depended on using the railway system within Iran, as well as its airbases. And when Shah Reza Pahlavi wouldn’t come to the party, the Brits and the Soviets decided to go for the traditional method of dealing with uppity natives.
They launched a joint invasion called Operation Countenance in late August 1941, with the Soviet forces coming in from the north and the Royal Navy spearheading the attack on the Gulf coast. A small force of British gunboats destroyed most of Iran’s naval capacity in one swift action. The Aussies were too, with the merchant vessel Kanimbla landing troops at Bandar-e-Shapur and taking control of the port. After that, a rapid advance by the British Army’s largely Indian force and some well placed bombs from the RAF meant things were over in less than a week.
The British lost just 22 killed, with the Soviets another 40.
Shah Reza still didn’t quite get it and refused to hand over German nationals in his capital, which prompted his removal and exile to South Africa. His more compliant son, Mohammed was put in his place and life went back to normal.
A couple of years later, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Tehran and cooked up the idea of forming an organisation called The United Nations after the war. This organisation would of course end up being responsible for such things as checking on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The new Shah remembered who put him there and became a good and loyal ally of the West, making sure the country’s oil wasn’t nationalised, buying squillions of dollars worth of military hardware and rounding up commies and free-thinkers by the truckload.
In fact he was so good at this, and so loyal to the West, that he eventually got overthrown by his desperately oppressed people. They installed a rather dour cleric by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini and declared the place an Islamic Republic.
And they now like experimenting with nuclear material.
Yes, nothing quite demonstrates the metaphor of ripples on a pond than out last 70 years of dealing with Iran. And something tells me any new invasion won’t be as easy as that last gasp of Victorian adventurism. Gunboats, railroads and bagpipes just won’t cut it anymore.